Squats, often praised as the king of all exercises, are a fantastic way to build strength, endurance, and better overall fitness. They’re simple, effective, and can be done just about anywhere. But here is the catch: for many, squats come with a side of pain. Maybe it’s a twinge in your knees, a nagging ache in your lower back, or something else entirely.
If you’ve ever found yourself struggling with discomfort during squats, you’re not alone. This common issue often leaves gym goers wondering if they’re doing something wrong or if they aren’t cut out for this exercise.
In today’s blog, I aim to shed light on the reasons behind the pain experienced during squats and provide insights into how to address and overcome it. By understanding the potential causes and learning effective strategies for pain relief, you can optimize your squatting and get one step closer to achieving your fitness goals.
So, let’s dive into the world of squat-related discomfort and discover how to make this essential exercise pain-free and productive.
Why Do Squats Cause Pain?
What makes squats truly exceptional is also what links them to potential injuries. Squats are a compound movement, engaging a range of muscles in the process. Your quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, and even your abs come into play, creating a symphony of muscle activation during each repetition.
However, it’s not always ideal for these muscles to carry the majority of the load. This is where the problem of potential back pain and discomfort enters the picture.
If you seek to perform squats without feeling pain and want to ensure the right muscles are doing the heavy lifting, you need to listen to the signals your body is sending.
It’s crucial to understand that your squat is closely tied to your unique body type. There’s no one-size-fits-all squat depth, as the perfect squat varies from person to person. Switching your approach to an individual one is a fundamental aspect of the solution.
Whether you favor back squats, front squats, goblet squats, or opt for single-leg variants, the insights and suggestions today will undoubtedly enhance your squatting skills, uncover any weaknesses, and prevent any potential injury, ultimately allowing you to squat with confidence and comfort.
1. A Week Grip May Be The First Issue
A weak grip is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about squat induced pain, but it can be a significant culprit. When your grip is loose, you not only risk losing control of the bar, but you also compromise your upper body’s stability. This can lead to a series of issues during your squat, from poor form and balance to unnecessary stress on your lower back.
The solution: When you’re prepping for the next squat set, you want to grip the bar as hard as possible and try to pull your elbows under the bar. A loose grip and improper technique will make you unstable during the movement. More tension in your hands and upper back create greater control and protect your spine and lower back.
2. You’re Probably Leaning Forward
A commonly heard squat cue is to maintain an upright chest position, and this holds true for a number of reasons. When you hinge excessively at your hips, it becomes incredibly challenging to sustain tension in the lower body muscles, especially your quads.
Leaning forward in your squat shifts weight distribution away from your quads and onto your glutes, hamstring, and sometimes even your lower back.
The solution: Start by reducing the weight and ensure that your body can handle the load you’re lifting. Squats have a way of sending signals that scream, “This is too much!” Folding forward as you descend is one such signal.
Focus on keeping your elbows drawn downward, facing the ground, and maintain an upright chest. This approach ensures that your torso stays more vertical throughout the entire exercise.
3. Bad Ankle Mobility
Ankle mobility is a common issue for many fitness enthusiast, often due to a lack of attention to this area of the body. Additionally, our reliance on stable footwear can lead to us feeling comfortable yet limited in our ability to build stronger, more durable, and more mobile ankles.
With a loss of ankle mobility, natural movement is heavily affected during squatting, leading to altered movement patterns and unnecessary stress on the knees.
The solution: To improve ankle mobility, there are several exercises and stretches that can be done, such as calf stretching against the wall and mobilization of the toes. Tight calves can contribute to stiff ankles, so it is important to address this as well. If you are looking for more depth, a simple fix would be placing a 5 pound plate under your heels and then squatting. These little changes can greatly improve your ankle mobility and ultimately squatting itself.
4. Collapsing Knees
To prevent serious injury during squats, it’s crucial to pay attention to your knees and ensure they are not caving inwards too much. While a little bit of movement is fine, however if one knee is almost touching the other, it’s time to fix the issue.
One way to test this is by doing a wall squat without any weight. Stand facing a wall with your feet about 6 inches away and squat as far as you can. This will immediately show if your hips, ankles, and upper back have any mobility issues and you’ll notice how your knees track. If you notice knees collapsing inwards, this could be due to a technique flaw, mobility issue, or weakness.
The solution: Switching to Goblet squats may help you fix the collapsing knees issue. Make sure you go as deep as possible, while still keeping your lats and core braced and forcing your knees out. This will provide dynamic mobilization. After some time you may revert back to the regular squat, while now having proper form in check.
5. A Lifting Belt is Not Always Necessary
Belts are useful when lifting really heavy, however in most cases they are not needed. You should only use them for assistance and not reliance. Always using a belt while squatting will disengage your core and prevent your abs from getting stronger, making you prone to injuries when you actually choose to squat without one.
The solution: Forget about the lifting belt until your heavier sets, this way you’ll increase overall full-body strength and endurance. Generally you should only use a belt once you work up to around 70 percent of your one-rep max (1RM).
To summarize, pain during squats is a common problem that can be caused by a variety of factors, including poor form, muscle imbalances, and underlying injuries. To reduce the risk of injury and pain during squats, it is important to use proper form, warm-ups, and stretching. Use the tips we covered today and find which area of your squat needs fixing.
Remember, pain is not always a sign of progress, so be cautious and listed to your body.